back to another exciting edition of “How Not to Get Published” (or as
they call it in the editorial offices, Oh, Lord, He’s At It
Again). This month we’re dusting off the old mailbag and
digging in to answer some of the pressing writer-type questions that
have plagued writer-types for ages. Okay, if I had an actual mailbag, I
would have dug in it. Still, there are questions to be answered, so
let’s get right to it.
difference between Print on Demand (POD) and self-publishing? How does
POD publishing affect my chances for success?
These questions come up on a
regular basis, and since they are so closely related in the minds of
many writers, I am combining them.
First, POD is a printing process.
It is the way words and images get on the page.
Essentially, there are nine
basic printing processes: offset lithography, engraving, thermography,
reprographics, digital printing (POD falls in this category),
letterpress (think Guttenberg), screen press (used for T-shirts and
billboards), flexography, and gravure (used for large magazine and
catalog press runs).
The method/process of printing
has nothing to do with whether a publishing company is a traditional
royalty paying company or a self-publishing company. It is just the way
the company gets the words on paper.
Literary agent Terry Burns put
the POD question in perspective this way: “I say this over and over
again: POD is a method of printing a book, period. People need to look
past the print process to the publisher and see what they do and do not
do. There are some relatively large publishers that use POD, publishers
that take returns, publishers who have entry points to bookstores and
have competitive prices. We simply cannot paint all publishers with the
same POD brush. We need to evaluate the publishers, not the print
“Just as the auto industry and
other manufacturing entities went to a ‘just in time’ inventory system
to get parts delivered as they need them, we see more publishers reduce
warehousing costs by having books printed and shipped in response to
orders. Many of the pitfalls [associated with some POD publishers] is
true for a lot of self-published books, and to many they feel the terms
self-published and POD are synonymous—they are not. One is a type of
publishing, and the other is a method of printing a book. We need to
learn to separate these two terms in our minds.”
Ultimately it’s not how the
words get on the page, it comes down to what you and the publisher are
able to work out about the finished product.
Do I really
need an office or a specific place to write?
In the old days, somewhere
between the time the last dinosaur died and the first man walked on the
moon, the general rule was that you carved out a spot (office, kitchen
table, etc.) and used that place to write all of the time. And there
are some valid reasons for doing so. If you have a specific place to
write, over time you actually train yourself to view that as your
“writing place” and to respond accordingly. A specific writing place
makes it easier to get into the “writing mode.” It helps you focus,
concentrate, and reinforces the mechanics associated with writing.
But rules were made to be
broken. With the advent of laptops, tablets, handheld devices, and our
more mobile society, many people find they can write just as
effectively on the train, on the deck, in the local coffee shop, and
just about any other place. In fact, author Jonathan Maberry (creator
of the Joe Ledger series and a writer for The X-Men) does much of his
writing at his local Barnes & Noble. As he says on his website:
“I do a lot of my writing there (they have Wi-Fi, coffee and . . . hey,
books!) My novel, Patient Zero, was written
cover-to-cover in bookstore coffee shops, as were its sequels.”
The important thing for writers
is not so much where they write as long
as they write on a regular basis And as one who has
an office and also writes on cruise ships, tropical islands, coffee
shops, and in airports, even us old dogs can still learn a few new
yes, writing on an island is
just as cool as it sounds like it would be.
What is the
best tool a writer can have?
I’m assuming we’re not talking
about the kind of computer/laptop/etc., needed to write with, so we’ll
move on to other tools. I’m going to step out on a limb and give you an
answer I’ve never seen anywhere else. While there are many excellent
resources (market guides, writing software packages, productivity aids,
and writer/critique groups), I think the best tool a writer can have is
What do you want to write? How
will you make the writing happen? What outlets are available for the
writing? If you take an honest look at what it is you want to do with
your writing, that will lead you to the nuts-and-bolts items you’ll
need. But without a well thought-out plan, the tools are just stuff.
What is the
best trait for a writer to have?
An iron butt.
Should my book
have a prologue, and if so, how long should it be?
I don’t know, and I don’t know.
Seriously, agents and editors
have differing opinions on this question. Some don’t mind prologues and
some prefer you start with chapter one. If the prologue is little more
than an information dump before the “real book” starts, you probably
should cut it. If it is integral to the story and serves a real
purpose, you might be on the right track.
That being said, the best answer
is this: If the prologue sets up important elements of the story, if it
contributes to the readers’ understanding of the plot, if it
foreshadows an important event in the book, a prologue might be a good
way to start.
Ultimately it comes down to
whether the book needs a prologue, and there is no hard-and-fast rule
for that. Either it works or it doesn’t. The key is providing important
information that would be less effective if presented another way, and
that is different with every book. My first novel had a prologue. The
new one doesn’t.
As for length, it should be long
enough to get the job done. And that, too, is subjective.
Check out a few novels at your
local bookstore (or your bookshelf at home). Get a feel for what works
and why it works.
Is this the